HUNTINGTON — The 2020 schedule of Conference USA games brought instant adrenaline to Western Kentucky.
The Hilltoppers, one of the favorites in the East Division, start the conference slate with a pair of rivalry contests.
That journey started Saturday with Western Kentucky’s 5 p.m. contest at Middle Tennessee and continues with next week’s home contest against Marshall.
It is a pair of games with the league’s most recognizable names attached to them, as well.
The contest with Middle Tennessee is known as “100 Miles of Hate” which plays on the exact distance between the two schools — 100 miles.
Western Kentucky’s matchup with Marshall has known as the “Moonshine Throwdown” which took on a life of its own on social media and has grown with the rivalry over the last six seasons.
It brought fans of the Hilltoppers to social media to debate which rivalry was the most heated for Western Kentucky as of now.
“The MTSU (Middle Tennessee) rivalry is our longest standing rival who has been in the different conferences with WKU for many years,” WKU fan Rob Brown said. “The reason that rivalry isn’t hot right now is that MTSU has been down in FB (football) and BB (basketball) for the last few years where Marshall has been nipping at our heels.”
Marshall and Western Kentucky have split the six meetings since the Tops joined Conference USA. WKU won the first three, including a pair that led to Conference USA titles in 2015 and 2016.
The Herd has answered back with three consecutive wins — all of which have come by one score or less.
With Marshall having ventured into the Top 25 for a week after its two opening wins of the season, there will be plenty of buzz surrounding a matchup that could feature the top two Conference USA East Division contenders in the early portion of the league season.
In terms of Conference USA, Western Kentucky comes in with plenty of spotlight on it, boasting of two of the three major preseason award winners for the league.
While Marshall running back Brenden Knox was the preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Western Kentucky took the other two top honors with defensive end DeAngelo Malone chosen as the Defensive Player of the Year and punter John Haggerty tabbed as the Special Teams Player of the Year.
Like Knox, Malone’s nomination came as a result of being the reigning 2019 Most Valuable Player on his side of the football.
In 2019, Malone finished fourth in FBS with 21 tackles for loss, which included 11.5 sacks. He had 99 total tackles on the season.
Haggerty was chosen as the Special Teams performer after the departure of 2019 award winner Justin Rohrwasser, Marshall’s kicker who largely got his nomination based off of a performance against the Hilltoppers last season in which he booted four field goals, including a 53-yard game-winner as time expired in Marshall’s 26-23 win.
Haggerty has been every bit as impressive during his time. The Australian punter averaged 45.9 yards per punt last season and has the ability to flip the field consistently which turns possession over to the opposition on a long field against one of the league’s top defenses.
Just as the buzz was high for Saturday’s Western Kentucky-Middle Tennessee matchup, the anticipation will be high for Marshall’s trip to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to take on the Hilltoppers next week as well.
The battle with the Tops may end up as a battle for tops in the Conference USA East Division at season’s end.